Guest Post #11: Life with Complex PTSD

Alexis Rose has a blog about Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) called A Tribe Untangled.  Her C-PTSD was brought about by a family tragedy (a terrible accident that befell her young daughter, something every loving parent fears with every fiber of their being) and it opened up a Pandora’s box of long repressed years of abuse and torture. Alexis Rose also has written a book, Untangled: A Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph.

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From her Book information page:

Recalling her life, the author takes us on a journey of unimaginable abuse with continued explicit threats that eventually led to her being sent overseas on an impossible mission.  She repressed the memories of her past until a family tragedy forced her to face what her life had been. A history of abuse, torture, and threats to maintain her silence or be killed could no longer be denied.

This is the story of facing the truth and risking the consequences of breaking the silence. The author learns to accept the effects of the trauma that echo through her daily life as PTSD.

Through years of self-exploration, she learns to live her life fearlessly, with eyes wide open. Ultimately this book is about resilience; hope for victims who have suffered trauma and for the people who support them.

Alexis is an experienced speaker on the topics of living with courage and resilience in the face of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. She has also presented multiple interactive workshops titled, Using One’s Innate Creativity (writing and drawing) as a Tool for Healing and Personal Growth.

For more information about Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph, to request a book signing, or to ask Alexis to speak to your group or lead a workshop, email alexis@atribeuntangled.com.

Alexis has been kind enough to write a guest post for this blog, which when I read it brought me to tears because I could relate so much to so much of what she wrote.   She is one strong woman.  Here is her wonderful post.  Please follow her blog: https://atribeuntangled.com/

Life with Complex PTSD

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I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder about eight years ago, after a family tragedy. My daughter was hit by a van at 30 miles an hour as she was crossing the street on her way to school.

The year following Aria’s accident I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keep our house hold running as normal as possible. And at the same time, I kept having these experiences that were making me feel crazy. I had worked so hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant Aria got hit, my controlled snow globe world came crashing down. In fact when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “things will never be the same again.”  Extremely prophetic words, that at the time myself nor my family had any idea what they would come to mean.

I was becoming anxious. I started losing time, I was called into meetings at work because my performance was terribly erratic. I was physically sick all the time, and kept having these bizarre memories leaving me feeling crazy.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.

When I started working with my first therapist, I was so anxious to tell her everything all at once so I could just feel better and get back to work. I didn’t understand that I was having flashbacks, or that I was living in a constant state of crisis. I was writing her letters from a dissociated state which made no sense to me when she would read them aloud. I would lock myself in my room for hours for fear that I was going to hurt myself and I didn’t want to be around my family.

My first therapist diagnosed me correctly but neglected to start my therapeutic process by teaching me any kind of safety or distress tolerance tools.  I was out of control, thinking I was losing my mind, feeling like I had failed my family, and spiraling down a very slippery slope. She did the best she could but was way over her head and within nine months of seeing her, I knew intuitively that I had to find another therapist. I have been working with my current therapist for seven years.

When I first started seeing my therapist I was dissociated most of the time. I was in crisis, I was anxious, confused, and convinced I was going crazy. After a couple of sessions, it became apparent to him that we had to get some safety plans in place. Once that was in place we could begin the process of working on and processing my trauma.

I (sort-of) started to come to terms with the idea that my erupting memories were in fact true. I was so overwhelmed by my memories and what we would process during session that I would remember, forget, remember, forget; until I started to turn a corner and forget how to forget. That’s when I found I could really start taking the baby-steps towards health.

Not only was my therapy about processing the memories, I also had to start accepting that there were some pretty intense effects of the trauma and that influenced how I saw and reacted to the world.  I knew I had some pretty deep-rooted trust issues. I also had large, thick, almost impenetrable walls holding back any feeling or emotions that I was willing to let the world see. I also began to understand that because of my trauma I had a pretty significant attachment issues, which for me, has been one of the hardest things to learn and accept. For some reason the attachment issue fed into my very low self-esteem and it’s something I still work on.

I also had to face down how my trauma effected my relationships with my family, friends, parenting style and career. In the midst of dealing and coping with the trauma, there were a lot of AHA moments, when I saw how my behavior and ways of coping with life, had been a direct result of my trauma and not because I was a bad person.

Eight years later and one of the biggest reasons I write is because my PTSD symptoms still have a pretty good choke-hold on me. As with many mental illnesses PTSD can be invisible on the outside. I had always been the master of wearing many masks, and deflecting any conversation away from me, all with a supportive smile for everyone else. But when I couldn’t hide my illness any longer my friends began to ask me, what does it feel like inside. I couldn’t really explain it, so I wrote a poem and shared it with my friends and family. I found that by writing I found a way to share with others and begin to understand what PTSD means for me, and find a way to cope with my fear that I would be plagued by the symptoms forever.

My symptoms include (not limited too) flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed and my brain shutting down, not being able to make choices, anxiety/depression, and sensitive to the triggers that start the whole shebang of symptoms. We use the term, triggers, triggers everywhere. The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car back-firing, even the moon can bring on flashbacks.

Unfortunately, my symptoms have left me with the inability to work. I went from having a wonderful career with the fringe benefits that provided me with some comfort for the future and the ability to provide for my family. I’m only able to work about 2 hours a day…on a good day.

It seems as if my symptoms (depending on the time of year) can start a chain reaction, so I needed to learn to work within my deficits. This isn’t easy or comfortable for me and because I’m still pretty new at learning how to work within my symptoms, I can find myself becoming frustrated and angry at my PTSD! Actually most days, if I’m going to be honest I am VERY angry at my PTSD. But then I settle down and think about what I want for my life and try to rest and reset.

The inability to concentrate can be over-whelming for me. I know what I want to do, what I want my brain to do but I simply am unable to do it. Making choice at the grocery store, or a restaurant can be so uncomfortable that I will just simply lose my interest in eating and shut down. Sometimes as night approaches it feels overwhelming because I know that its highly likely that sometime during the night I will have nightmares. Even practicing good sleep hygiene listening to podcasts, all the tricks can’t stop the nightmares sometimes and it gets overwhelming. And sometimes I’m overwhelmed because I’m a survivor of trauma and have PTSD and that’s just the way it is, even though I wish it was different.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. At first, I strictly used it for bilateral stimulation. I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice at first, but then I found it actually gave me a voice.

What I hope to convey as I move forward: Try to remember to notice those perfect moments. Celebrate each step on the path towards health, know that it is a long and never linear process, and that it really is just one foot in front of the other, you need to do a lot of resting, a lot of just sitting and metabolizing.  And even though healing can feel like be a lonely process, through a blogging community and other support systems, we realize that we are not alone.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I never lose sight of my goals. They are to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Some days those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I can see them just through the clutter, almost there. I still need a lot of therapy to manage my symptoms, and I may need a lot of assistance for the day-to day grind, but I’m motivated to keep moving forward, spurred on by the hope for a better life. A life where I am living, not just surviving.

http://atribeuntangled.com

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Diagnosis: Complex PTSD

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My therapist finally spilled the beans (at my insistence) and thinks PTSD or complex PTSD is the closest fit for what I actually have.   BPD may have fit once, but he doesn’t think it does any longer, if it ever did.   He said a lot of those “borderline” symptoms may really have been PTSD.   He also doesn’t think I fit the criteria for any other personality disorder.    Also I would not be responding to therapy as well (or as quickly) if I had an actual personality disorder.

This is wonderful.   Complex PTSD is a non-stigmatizing label that acknowledges that damage was done to YOU,  and you are just reacting normally to the abnormal.   Personality disorders imply that the problem is in the person and BPD is one of the most stigmatizing labels of all.

I’ve grown quite attached to my BPD label though, and I’m not quite ready to give it up yet. So I’ll still keep BPD under “Read About My Crazy” since I actually was diagnosed with it twice.  Maybe it was an erroneous diagnosis or maybe not,  but being a “borderline” has become so much a part of my identity I’m going to keep it for now.  I’m just overjoyed that my therapist does NOT think I have it and also that he’s aware of narcissistic abuse and the ways it can really f**k with your mind.

He says it’s fairly common for people with PTSD/C-PTSD to try to self-diagnose and it’s normal to be confused, as I have been very much so.

Guest Post #8 : Abusers break you–and then HATE you for being broken.

My dear friend and active participant on this site, Linda Lee, has written a wonderful and OMG SO TRUE post, which describes a lifetime of abuse, including incarceration in a state mental hospital, and being faced with unethical doctors and caregivers, including one who raped her. She was sent back home to a rejecting family–who had put her there in the first place! Linda Lee has Complex PTSD, a form of PTSD that’s often the result of chronic abuse during childhood, rather than an isolated traumatic incident later on in life. After describing the insane house of mirrors she had been thrusted into that seemed to have no way out, Linda lifts the reader out of the darkness with an uplifting message about Easter and the resurrection.

Linda Lee also has a blog about her Complex PTSD caused by prolonged, severe trauma called Surviving Trauma (formerly Heal My Complex PTSD).   (I got a little confused here because Linda recently changed her blog but the old one is still there too.  Her new blog is called A Blog About Healing From PTSD. )

I know the following story sounds so crazy, it’s hard to believe. But it is all true, so help me God… unless I really AM nuts, and the mental health professionals who have told me otherwise over the years were all wrong!

ABUSERS BREAK YOU — AND THEN HATE YOU FOR BEING BROKEN
By Linda Lee, Surviving Trauma and A Blog about Healing From PTSD

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The cover for Linda Lee’s future book, which she designed herself!

If you take a young puppy away from his canine family before he is weaned, yell at him, kick him, shake him, beat him, half-starve him, and leave him on a chain outdoors, exposed to every kind of weather without shelter, that poor little puppy is going to grow up to be a deeply disturbed dog – if he lives to grow up.

If you treat human children like that pitiful dog, they are going to have behavioral and emotional problems, too.

I grew up with parents who were normal and nice some of the time, and behaved like insane, demonically possessed monsters part of the time. I never knew from one day to the next whether my mother was going to be like June Cleaver in the TV show “Leave it to Beaver,” or Joan Crawford in the movie “Mommy Dearest.”

As for my dad, a fundamentalist minister whose episodes of violence led to his diagnosis of multiple personality disorder (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder), some people believed that he actually was possessed by demons.

When I was fourteen years old, I began to have some emotional problems. Big surprise, right? I told my mother about the difficulty I was having, hoping she could help me. But, although my problems were mild compared to both of my parents’ history of extreme mental problems, my mother said “You are crazy just like your father!” Then she contacted my dad (my parents were divorced by then), and he agreed with her that I needed to be put in a state mental institution – against the advice of my doctor!

Of course, my dad said that I was “crazy like your mother.” He also told me he was GLAD I had psychiatric problems, because now I would understand what he had gone through.

But I did not understand. Almost fifty years later, I still don’t. Unlike both of my parents, my behavior was not out of control. On the contrary, although I wasn’t perfect, I was obedient, subservient, and eager to please. I had never been the least bit violent. I had never threatened or tried to harm anyone.

My dad, on the other hand, came so close to murdering my mom when I was twelve years old that for several terrifying moments I had thought she was dead. That’s when my father was arrested, then put in the psychiatric ward of a general hospital after the police took him to the emergency room because his insulin-dependent diabetes was out of control.

As for my mother, a few weeks after my dad tried to kill her, she did something even worse – she tried to gas us all to death while my four younger brothers and sisters and I were sleeping in our beds. Yet she never put herself under any kind of psychiatric care. With no other responsible adult living in the house at the time, there was no one to force her to get help. So now, because she has never been to a mental health professional and labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis, my mother thinks she is “just fine.”

When my dad’s medical insurance ran out and he was discharged from the psych ward, my mother dropped her charge of attempted murder so he could go back to work and provide financial support. Then my dad married the head nurse of the psychiatric ward whom he had met while he was a patient there (how unethical is that?), and my mother started dating a newly divorced man who had previously worked with my dad. She soon became pregnant (accidentally on purpose?), and quickly married the unborn baby’s father.

So now my parents were living happily ever after with their brand new loves while I, their eldest daughter, became the family scapegoat and “the crazy one.” And together my parents decided that I needed to be locked up in a state insane asylum, because: “she might become violent some day.”

Projection much?

About a year after my parents put me in the institution a new psychiatrist, Dr. Fenster, was hired to replace the rapist shrink who had been caught and fired the third time he drugged me unconscious and raped me. Lucky Otter posted this story for me almost a year ago. Here is the link: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/04/12/have-you-ever-been-hurt-by-a-psychiatrist-guest-post-by-alaina-holt-adams/. (I wrote that post under the pen name Alaina Adams. I have since changed my pen name to Linda Lee, because it’s more like the real me.)

I had originally met the newly hired doctor when I was first put in the asylum and he was there, finishing his psychiatric residency. He had told me then that there was nothing mentally wrong with me, in his opinion, and he was confident that the psychiatrist in charge of my ward would soon have me released.

When Dr. Fenster took over my case more than a year later, he was shocked and dismayed to see that I was still there. Within the first five minutes of his first day on the job, the good doctor made me a promise: “I am going to get you out of here as soon as possible. You never should have been put here in the first place!”

But his promise turned out to be much easier said than done. Eight months later, Dr. Fenster called me into his office one last time before sending me out into the world. “I am very sorry that it has taken me so long to get you out of here,” he said. “The amount of legal red tape involved to release a patient from a state hospital is unbelievable, especially when it comes to a minor child. Because you are only sixteen, you are legally a ward of the state and you cannot be released on your own recognizance until you are twenty-one, five years from now! Until then, you can only be released into the care of a responsible adult. I have spoken with every adult in your family several times, at length – with your grandparents on both sides, and your mother and father. I hate to tell you this, but every last one of them is far sicker than you ever were! Frankly, it’s no surprise to me that you had emotional problems. Coming from a hateful, self-centered crew like that, I don’t understand how you can be as sane as you are! Even your maternal grandparents are unbelievably hard-hearted and selfish! At first, I thought they would be the best hope for you to have a decent chance at life. With your grandfather’s current position as the associate warden of Leavenworth Federal Prison, they could so easily provide you with a stable home and every advantage.”

He shook his head sadly. “I hate to tell you this, Linda, but no one in your family wants you. Every single one of them came right out and told me they don’t want a ‘mental patient’ living in their home. It didn’t make any difference when I told them that you are not mentally ill and you never should have been put here in the first place. In fact, when I mentioned that, your mother said that just by virtue of the fact that you have been kept here in this place for so long, you have probably been changed by the experience and now you may be dangerous! So… when I kept hitting a brick wall with everyone in your family, I gave up and tried to find a foster home willing to take you in. But they have to be informed about your time in this institution, and I could not find any foster parents willing to take the chance. I even tried to talk my wife into the two of us fostering you, but… it was a no-go.”

Dr. Fenster stared down at his hands, which were lying palms-up on his desk in an attitude of defeat. “Your mother is coming to take you out of here today,” he said. “although she is the last person I want to send you home with. Why she chose to have so many kids when she doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body is beyond my understanding. But she is coming to get you because – frankly – I found out something about her and I have used it to blackmail her. But even then, she would not agree to take you unless I wrote your discharge paper in such a way that it says you are being sent home on an ‘indefinite leave.’ I’m sorry this isn’t a full discharge. What it means is that your mother can bring you back here at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. So my advice to you is to get as far away from everyone in your family as soon as you can – and don’t ever go back!”

A nurse handed me a paper bag full of my threadbare clothes, then escorted me from the doctor’s office down to the lobby. My mother and her mother were waiting there, both with very grim faces. After a tense, silent two-hour car ride to my mother’s house, I discovered that I no longer had a bedroom or a bed – I was told to sleep on the living room sofa. In fact, everything that I had ever owned, my beloved books, the papers I had written, my clothes, my costume jewelry, and the childhood toys I had cherished and saved, were all gone. Taken to the dump, I was told, right after I was put in the mental institution.

My “WELCOME HOME” was nonexistent. Not one person said “I’m glad you’re back, I’ve missed you.” My much younger sisters and brothers had always looked up to me, loved me, and depended on me, especially during our mother’s deep depression after the violent end of our parents’ marriage. Along with my new stepfather, my four little siblings had begged our mother not to send me to the institution two years earlier. Even my grandparents may have questioned why she would send her adolescent daughter to the most notorious insane asylum in the region, when my behavior, to all outward appearances, was completely normal. So then my mother had told horrible projecting lies about me, to justify what she had done. Lies which the majority of my family apparently believe to this day.

Three days after my return “home,” while I was being ultra careful not to be a bother to anyone in any way, my mother waited until my stepfather was at work and my school age siblings were all in school, and then she told me that I needed to leave – to run away – because she could not afford to feed a big grown girl like me.

“I can barely afford to feed the five little ones,” she said. “Your father doesn’t pay nearly enough child support, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect your stepfather to feed you. And after where you have been, I am afraid you might be a bad influence on the younger children. I had you when I was only eighteen, too young to know what I was doing. So I made all my mistakes on you. Unfortunately, it’s too late for you. But I think that throwing one child away, in order to save the other five, is the right thing to do, don’t you? And don’t worry, I promise I won’t call the police and report you as a runaway!” She said this, about not calling the police, with a big smile on her face, as though she had just handed me the keys to a brand new car.

“You know, I married your father when I was sixteen. Sixteen is old enough to be on your own. And, like I’ve been telling you ever since you reached puberty – no house is big enough for two women!”

This happened in the middle of a cold December and there were several inches of snow on the ground. The tiny town where my mother and stepfather had moved to while I was in the institution was miles away from a city, where there might be some kind of shelter or help. Without a penny to my name, with my few clothes bunched up in a pillowcase, because the paper bag I had brought my clothes home from the hospital in, had torn – and I remember feeling guilty for taking one of my mother’s pillow cases, that’s what a “terrible” daughter I was! – I walked out the door into the frozen December morning. I had not eaten any breakfast that day, because no one had offered me anything and I was trying so hard not to be a bother….

Whew. Right now, as I am writing about that terrible time in my life, I feel so ANGRY!

My husband today, a combat veteran from the war in Vietnam, has talked about the pain of coming back from the hell of war and getting rejection, instead of a Welcome Home. I’ve told him I understand how that feels. A few years ago, there was a big push to finally welcome our Vietnam War Veterans home. I’m so glad they got that. They deserve it. But… deep down inside, I feel like I am still waiting for my Welcome Home.

I did not follow Dr. Fenster’s advice to have nothing to do with anyone in my family of origin, until I was in my fifties. Why? Because I loved my family. I wanted to have a family! Although I stopped living in the same state forty years ago, I kept reaching out to them, time and time again, over the years – by driving very long distances to visit them, by phone calls, by letters, and finally, when social media became available, I reached out to them through Facebook.

With the exception of my aunt (my mother’s younger sister) and my oldest niece, every time that I have ever reached out in any way to anyone in my family of origin, I have been hurt and abused all over again. The bullying I took on Facebook was so bad, I ended my account. Even today, every time I see that ubiquitous blue logo, I shudder inside.

WHY does my family of origin despise me so much? Because they apparently believe my mother’s lies about why she “had no choice” but to commit me to an insane asylum almost half a century ago. And anything that I have to say on the subject is suspect because, you know, I must have been really crazy in order to be locked up.

They BREAK you, and then they HATE you for being broken.

Every trauma story is unique. Some people have told me that my trauma story is so extreme, it makes them feel ashamed of having any kind of emotional problems when their trauma is “less” by comparison. But I absolutely do not want anyone who reads this to feel that way! Please!! Pain is pain, trauma is trauma, and – in my experience – THE WORST PAIN OF ALL IS THE PAIN OF BEING REJECTED BY THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO LOVE YOU. Not the terrifying episodes of violence, not the rapes, not even being labeled “crazy” and locked up for almost two years in a lunatic asylum, hurts as bad as this!!

If you, like me, have ever been scapegoated, lied about, shunned, and rejected for being so “bad” as to have any kind of emotional or mental problems, then I believe your wounds go just as deep as mine.

Thank you for reading this. Please feel free to share your own story in the comments. And thank you, Lucky Otter, for giving people like me the opportunity to share our mental health struggles with your readers. God bless.

In truth and love, Linda Lee

PS: Today is Easter, the day we Christians celebrate our risen Lord. I believe HE is the reason why I finally got free of the insane asylum, during an era when 97% of the people committed there were never released. (This is what one of the psychiatrists told me right after I got there, when I asked him how soon I could go home.) I was one of the lucky few who got a second chance at life. I think the reason may be because I had given my heart to Christ when I was a little girl. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Amen!

Ditziness and complex PTSD, BPD.

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“She has no common sense.”
“She’s just a dumb blonde.”
“She’s kind of ditzy.”
“She never seems to know what’s going on.”

These are phrases I’ve heard said about me my entire life, and not just by my abusers. To most people, I do come across as a little ditzy or scatterbrained. It doesn’t help that I happen to be blonde, because blonde haired people have to work twice as hard as everyone else to be taken seriously, since the (false) stereotype that all blondes are intellectual lightweights doesn’t seem to be going away.

I prefer to think of myself as an Annie Hall type. You may remember the 1977 movie starring Diane Keaton as Woody Allen’s (brunette!) scatterbrained but quirky love interest. I think I talk and act a lot like Annie Hall. At least I like to think I do, because Annie had a lot of charm and was loveable too. She was also a lot smarter than she appeared.

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It gets tiresome being thought of by others as less intelligent than I actually am (my IQ is actually very high) and I get self-conscious about appearing “dumb.” My self-consciousness only seems to make the problem worse though, because it causes me to make silly mistakes and do or say socially awkward, dumb things out of nervousness.

For over a decade I thought I had Aspergers, because not only am I socially awkward, I often seem to be “out in space” and not really aware of what’s going on around me. It’s hard to hide this from others, and sometimes people talk down to me in a patronizing or condescending way, believing I can’t understand simple directions or information.  I resent it when people do that.

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I’m not an Aspie, and I definitely don’t lack intelligence.  But dissociation is a symptom of both complex PTSD and BPD, and this is what I think is happening when I seem to be off in some other universe. When you dissociate, you’re not really in your own skin, and are not present in the moment. You’re outside yourself, stuck in the future or the past, and not paying much attention to the material reality of the moment. As a child, my report cards alsways had comments like, “Lauren does not pay attention,” or “Lauren spends too much time daydreaming in class.” I wonder now if I was dissociated whenever I was daydreaming.

Dissociative episodes can be very scary, but if you spend most of your time only slightly dissociated, you might not even notice that anything is wrong. You’ll just come across as being a bit “spacey.”

Further reading:
Derealization and Depersonalization in BPD and NPD

The awkwardness of being a Borderline ACON.

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I won’t lie.  It’s incredibly awkward being a blogger who blogs about two things that seem diametrically opposed to many people in the narcissistic abuse community:  being a victim of narcissists, and having a Cluster B disorder (BPD).   To those of you who aren’t familiar with the ACON (adult children of narcissists) blogosphere,  there are a few ACON bloggers (not too many on WordPress, fortunately) who seem to think if you have BPD then you can’t also be an abuse victim and certainly shouldn’t be blogging about it.  Because, you see, if you have BPD then you are one of the soulless abusers.  If you are any kind of “cluster B person” blogging about abuse, then of it follows that you must have an “agenda.”  What that agenda is is never specified though.

I have been accused of many things, none of which are pretty, and few of which are true. Most are crass generalizations made out of ignorance and a refusal to think outside the box or consider that not everything is all black or all white or that all people can be shoved into a box. .   Here are just a few of the things I’ve been accused of.

  1. I have an “agenda” and dishonest motives.
  2. I am not really an abuse victim.
  3. I am being paid off or otherwise compensated  other people (like Sam Vaknin) or psychiatric organizations (like the APA) to promote my “evil” views and blur the lines between Cluster B disorders and complex PTSD caused by abuse.
  4. I’m “evil.”
  5. I’m crazy.
  6. I’m confused.
  7. I only care about being “popular”
  8. As a Borderline, I have “no right” to be writing posts about narcissistic abuse.

To these accusations,  here are my responses:

  1. Um, no.  I’m not clear what “agenda” it is I’d be trying to promote. My only “agenda” is healing for myself, fun (because I love to write), and hopefully, helping a few others along the way.
  2. I guess some people never really read this blog because it’s filled with personal accounts of narcissistic abuse by both my family of origin and my ex-husband.   Oh, that’s right.  I’m just making it all up. 🙄   I couldn’t make up these accounts if I tried.  I try not to dwell too much on the abuse though, because doing that doesn’t help me and only makes me miserable.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, though.
  3. This really makes me scratch my head.   It almost makes me laugh how far a few people are reaching by saying this.  The only monetary compensation I get is about $30 – $40 a month from running ads on this blog.   I still live in poverty and I don’t have any kind of shady business dealings with any organization or person.  I write this blog because I want to.
  4. That’s quite a value judgment there.   You don’t even know me.   I don’t point fingers and call anyone evil unless I have real good reason to, and even then I’m hesitant because I don’t want to be a judgmental person (I can’t stand judgmental people).   I think it’s always better to use the term “evil” for actions, not people.   I guess this idea that I’m evil is because I’m zOMG “Cluster B.”  I’m not a narcissist (even if I do have a few of the traits) and I’m not antisocial and I do have empathy and an almost excessively strong conscience.   But some people have the idea that even if you’re a self-aware borderline who practices mindfulness, you’re still as bad as one of the narcs.  “Sociopath” is another thing I’ve been called but it means pretty much the same thing.
  5. Maybe there’s a bit of truth to this.  After all, I do have four mental disorders–BPD, complex PTSD,  Avoidant PD, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  I can act pretty crazy sometimes too.   But at least I’m self-aware crazy and can see myself pretty objectively and control my urges to act crazy when they get out of hand. But just because you don’t agree with me doesn’t mean I’m crazy.  I just have a different opinion than you do.  Deal with it.
  6. There’s also some truth to this.    It is VERY confusing being both an abuse victim and having a Cluster B disorder, even though the Cluster B disorder was caused by abuse!   And like it or not, I DO think BPD and complex PTSD are almost the same disorder.   Of course, this is just my opinion and no one’s paying me off or brainwashing me to “blur the lines.”
  7. No.  My primary motive in blogging is healing myself and helping people.   A secondary motive is fun.    Yes, of course I look at my stats and always get a small thrill when they’re growing, but I don’t write to be popular or famous.  Yes, I’d like to write a book someday and be able to make a living from my writing, but who wouldn’t?   Even if I never make a penny from my writings and even if no one read my blog, I’d still be doing it because it’s something I really like to do.
  8. As a Borderline, I *AM*  victim of narcissitic abuse.  (see reply #6).  ANYONE who was an abuse victim and wants to heal from the damage they endured has EVERY right to blog about it, and yes, that even includes people with self aware NPD!

me_and_my_evil_crazy_me_in_minecraft_by_sonatathesiren-d90wfu7
“Me and My Evil Crazy Me” (Minecraft image by Sonatathesiren)

I know my opinions are sometimes controversial and won’t sit well with everyone, but unless I’m presented with a convincing argument to discard my personal beliefs and opinions, they aren’t going to change.   I ‘m a critical thinker who likes to explore all angles of an issue and then form my own opinions when I’ve gathered enough information.  I’ve always walked to the beat of my own drummer, rather than mindlessly following what other people tell me I “should” do or believe.   Being a “lone wolf” who walks to the beat of my own drummer and refuses to conform to the “popular” view is one of the biggest reasons why I was ostracized by so many people all my life–including my own family.  But you know what?  I don’t care.  This is who I am and I’m going to keep running with it.     I seriously don’t understand why people who dislike my opinions and views so much keep reading my posts anyway if it’s only going to make them angry.  No one is forcing my opinions on those people. Just hit the backspace button!  It’s easy.

I’m aware some people have a problem with this because it doesn’t fit into the almost cult-like mentality I’ve seen among certain (fortunately only a few) ACON bloggers. If you piss them off, be prepared to be mobbed. Maybe they’ll leave you alone on your own blog but make no mistake–they will be trashing you and your character on their own blogs. At the same time, there are so many more people (and bloggers) who appreciate my reluctance to put people into boxes and think in only black and white terms.  There are many beautiful shades of grey in between the extremes.  That’s one of the best takeaways of moving away from BPD black and white thinking and replacing that with critical thinking and mindfulness.  If that’s evil and crazy, then evil and crazy I guess I will be.   But I really don’t think it is.

balance

Many people have told me my more open-minded approach has been refreshing and has helped them come to terms with the abuse they had to endure and move past the rage and anger they felt coming out of their abusive relationships, or when they went No Contact. At the same time, one of my aims has become reducing the awful stigma against people suffering from BPD. It’s a delicate balance, but I don’t think it’s undoable.

Being a borderline and a trauma victim who writes about narcissistic abuse issues as well as my own (and other) cluster B disorders,  it’s sometimes a delicate balance.   But they are not mutually exclusive.   I  feel driven to write  about my disorders as they relate to my abuse and attempt to reconcile them because I need to for my own sanity and healing.

Borderlines: incurable demons or trauma victims?

complex_ptsd
The symptoms of Complex PTSD are almost identical to those of BPD.

Something has come to my attention during the time I’ve been blogging, which I think is important enough to merit another post about it.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD, DSM code 301.83) is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a Cluster B (emotional/dramatic/erratic) personality disorder having many similarities to character disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Both NPD and ASPD are characterized by a lack of empathy, entitled behavior, and disregard for the rights or feelings of others. It’s also true that some Borderlines act out in ways harmful to themselves and others. Hence, “Cluster B” has become a pejorative category and some ACONs (adult children of narcissists) and others have demonized people with BPD as being amoral, immoral, and almost inhuman, nearly or as bad as as people with NPD or ASPD. Some even go so far as to lump all borderlines in with the “narcs” and barely make a distinction between them. In their minds, if you’re a Borderline, you’re no better than a “narc” and that’s all there is to it. You’re a bad person and to be avoided.

To make matters even worse, many mental health professionals refuse to treat people with BPD, believing them to be troublemakers, incurable, or both. I remember one therapist I saw years ago for an intake session and seemed to connect well with, called me a few days later after he received my psychiatric records, and told me he couldn’t take me on as a patient. “I don’t work with borderlines,” he said.

It’s true that there are some similarities between the Cluster B disorders, and both BPD and NPD/ASPD have roots in childhood abuse or neglect. But the similarities don’t run very deep. What I mean by that is while both a borderline and a narcissist cn be manipulative or abusive to others, the reasons are very different. There’s also the matter of intention. Borderlines, if they act out against others, aren’t usually aware they’re being abusive and/or manipulative. If their bad behavior is brought to their attention, they normally become very upset and feel terrible about it (unless they have a comorbid NPD or ASPD diagnosis). They act out because of overpowering emotions that they haven’t learned how to control. In contrast, a narcissist or person with ASPD acts out because they can. If their behavior is brought to their attention, they’re likely to become angry and rage against the accusation, make excuses, blame-shift it onto someone else, or deny it.  Unlike most borderlines, they don’t feel remorse, guilt or shame for hurting others.

In addition, many borderlines are much more harmful to themselves than to other people. If they do act out against others, most are as frightened by their own outbursts as others are and sometimes more so. In a nutshell, people with BPD know they have a problem and wish they could be different. Untreated BPD makes a Borderline’s life miserable, while people with NPD or ASPD are usually not bothered by their disorder. That’s why, even though Borderlines can act “crazier” than narcissists, they can get better and are much more responsive to therapy or behavioral treatments such as DBT or CBT.

But we’re still caught in a gray zone, neither here or there.   The stigma against borderlines (in my observation) has grown worse, and most narcissistic abuse sites pretty much regard people with BPD  as the “female or over-emotional version of NPD.”  (actually, Covert/Fragile NPD or Histrionic Personality Disorder would come closer).   If we’re narcissistic abuse victims suffering from complex PTSD, it takes a great deal of courage to admit you also have a BPD diagnosis.  It took me a few months to come out about it on this blog. Fortunately,  I haven’t received too much (or really, any) flack about it.

complex-ptsd-and-bordeline-personality-disorder-36-728
Click to enlarge graph.

The good news is, a number of BPD bloggers are helping to reduce the negative stigma that we’re “bad seeds” with an untreatable disorder just because we’re OMG “Cluster B.” Think about this: have you ever noticed that there aren’t too many people with NPD (or ASPD) blogging about their challenges and insecurities, or fighting to reduce the stigma against their disorder? If they blog about their narcissism or psychopathy, it’s usually to brag about how NPD/psychopathy makes them superior or allows them to have control over others and be successful in the world. That’s because they don’t think they have a problem (They just cause others to have problems). Most Borderlines know they have a problem and struggle with it constantly, since it makes them feel so crazy and lowers their quality of life. I can only think of ONE blogger with NPD who was unhappy with his disorder and successfully treated for it (or so he says). That man probably had low-spectrum and probably covert NPD; a person with malignant or high spectrum grandiose-type NPD will never have enough insight or willingness to admit that THEY are the ones with a problem. In contrast, I can think of about 20 bloggers with BPD who are in treatment or therapy or have even been healed! I’m sure there’s many more that I don’t even know about.

BPD also seems to co-occur a lot with complex PTSD or PTSD. Most BPD bloggers I can think of also have complex PTSD or are in treatment for it. The symptoms of BPD and Complex PTSD are almost the same. The DSM does not recognize Complex PTSD as a diagnosis; it only recognizes PTSD, which is not caused by chronic trauma over a long period of time (such as having been abused as a child), but by one traumatic incident (such as fighting in a war or being raped). Therapeutic treatments for complex PTSD and BPD are also almost the same (for that matter, NPD and other personality disorders are treated almost the same way). Both BPD and Complex PTSD have a higher cure rate than NPD. Since Complex PTSD isn’t recognized as a valid diagnosis, I think a lot of people (especially women) who might have been diagnosed with complex PTSD if it was recognized get slapped with the “Borderline” label instead. Although I accept my BPD diagnosis (and have even become a little attached to it), I wonder if I might never have been diagnosed with it at all had Complex PTSD been recognized by the psychiatric profession. I think in some cases, BPD may not really be accurate, or could even be the same thing as C-PTSD due to their many similarities. At least one blogger (BPD Transformation, who used to comment here but stopped for some reason), doesn’t even think BPD is a valid diagnosis and shouldn’t exist at all.

Further reading:

Are BPD and Complex PTSD the Same Disorder?

Is BPD a Real Disorder or Should it Be Eliminated as a Diagnosis?

Guest post #3: Facing Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

I’m happy to introduce my third guest blogger, Alisha, who has a blog about living with Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and chronic pain. She was kind enough to write this powerfully written guest post for this blog. I loved reading it because it ends with a message of hope, no matter how bad things might seem. Please visit Alisha’s blog, The Invisible F.  She has another blog featuring her fantasy writing, including her novel, The Return of the Key.

From her About page:

alisha

Hi, my name is Alisha. I’m a proud alumnus of the University of Westminster where I did my MA in International Journalism. I love parrots, singing, drawing, sharing stories, fantasy movies, games and books, and people who like fantasy movies, games and books.

I live with a number of chronic health conditions including fibromyalgia, clinical depression, anxiety, & Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and for much of my life have suffered from debilitating symptoms. I want to raise awareness to help people understand but moreso to share and engage with all those whose lives are touched by fibromyalgia and mental health problems in one way or another, so they know they’re not alone.

Facing Complex-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder
By Alisha, The Invisible F.

pain

I was sitting in a small room at hospital when the psychiatrist’s voice called me away from the brilliant white walls that were pulling me in.

“You’ve had a very difficult life Alisha” she said, looking at my notes. After asking me to recount some of my ordeals, she said “From your symptoms, I would say you have Complex-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (C-PTSD).”

I had to ask her how C-PTSD differed from PTSD, which many of us associate with soldiers who have served in warzones or conflicts. She explained that C-PTSD tends to occur in people who have suffered repeated traumas for a prolonged period, with no chance of recovering from each incidence.

The more she told me about it, the more I felt like she was telling me about myself.

I had a long history of abuse starting in childhood, when I honestly believed I wouldn’t live to see the age of 18. I survived, thankfully, but I continued to endure traumas past my teenage years and into my twenties. I can’t say which incident was worse, because I felt the enormity of each one added to the already heavy weights that I carried. At 16 I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, suffering terribly painful anxiety attacks that made my chest hurt so much I thought I would die.

I tried to ignore the feelings my past stirred up, because I lived in a society that stigmatises mental health conditions. I thought I was fine. It was only years after my stepfather and friend were brutally murdered, that I started getting glimpses of the brokenness I had masterfully hidden from the world and myself. I packed my bags and left everything and everyone I loved behind, moving to the other side of the world. Surely pain wouldn’t follow me there. But we can’t unknow things, and there was a lot of pain etched on my heart and mind. These parts of me would not let me forget.

C-PTSD manifesting

The C-PTSD diagnosis made sense but I was still surprised. Mostly because I wasn’t expecting another label. I already lived with fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety and several months before had been slapped with borderline personality disorder, which I was still struggling to come to terms with. I could say very clearly what some of my symptoms were, but I couldn’t always say which diagnosis was responsible for what I suffered on any given day.

As time passed and I connected the dots, I understood more about how deeply C-PTSD had been affecting my everyday life, unknown to me.

Days before I met the psychiatrist at hospital, I was sitting in Accident & Emergency having a meltdown, unable to cope with the avalanche of emotions tumbling through me. I wanted to give up again and almost did. I didn’t understand why the smallest upsets felt like utter catastrophes, or why I seemed to attract bullies or why getting close to people terrified me so. The doctor was most empathetic about it.

“Well you’ve had a lot of bad experiences with people so that is going to shape your outlook. It doesn’t mean your outlook is wrong. It only means your experiences have shaped your perspective” she said.

If only other people were that understanding. Not too long before I had encountered very unsympathetic people in a shared flat where I resided. Just when I thought I was recovering from the dark feelings that led to two close calls on my life, I discovered that approaching the close of my twenties, I was having night terrors. I had never even known there was such a thing until it was googled by a flatmate who constantly complained about my screaming at night. I couldn’t believe that I was screaming while asleep with no recollection of it the next morning. I didn’t believe it until my own screams woke me in the dead of the night. Frightened and panicked, I searched around my room until reason returned, and I questioned what it was that I was looking for, and so terrified of.

Nightmares

I have a long history of nightmares, which started in childhood. The kind that leave you so terrified you’d do anything to keep yourself from drifting off, anxious of what’s waiting for you in the realm of dreams. Consequently, I developed insomnia from a young age. Generally, my anxiety tends to get worse at night. It’s not uncommon to find me wide awake in the wee hours of the morning when most people are getting their best sleep. I’ve always slept better in the day, when the sun is out and it somehow feels safer. When I (reluctantly) have to go to sleep at night, I clear my room to make sure there’s no clutter that might form awkward shadows, that may frighten me when I wake in between my cat naps.

My flatmates couldn’t understand the nature of night terrors, and I was accused in person, by email and text like a perpetrator. I felt bad about it, truly. The accusations though, only distressed me more, and increased the frequency and severity of the night terrors.

Recently, I started sleeping walking, and I often wake up running towards my bedroom door terrified, with no recollection of my dreams.

Living with C-PTSD has been like sitting in a prison inert, long after the doors have been opened. I have wanted so badly to walk through, tending to avoid things and places that remind me of past traumas. I think of all the positive things I’ve managed to achieve through my beleaguered time here. I spend my waking hours keeping extremely busy so I rarely have time for stray thoughts, and it works; but everytime I go to rest, my subconscience reminds me of the many demons I’ve buried and hidden away.

In my dreams I am always running, looking for an ally, and an escape that is rarely found. I often run in different directions, only to end up right back in the place where my captors are waiting by the prison doors. When I am not shut away, I am violently murdered, again and again, like a broken cassette sticking in the same sickening place.

The things I said I’d never do

I suppose I never realised how my past traumas were affecting me until my late twenties. People would say, ‘it’s the past, just leave it behind and move on.’ Or worse ‘everyone has problems.’ If only it were that simple. I’d give these people a chance to walk in my shoes if I could, and silence any doubts. I want to forget, and I do everything possible to move forward, but the mind is such a powerful thing. All my efforts have been no match for my mind which digs up torments when I am asleep.

Owing to C-PTSD, I’ve done a lot of those things I said I would never do. You know when we watch others suffer and silently judge, telling ourselves, ‘that will never be me’? At 17 I remember watching my 30-something year old friend elaborately explain how she avoided the doctor’s questions when he asked how she accidentally cut her arm again, needing stitches. When I asked her directly, she brushed it off, and I sat there thinking I will never understand this.

I didn’t think of my friend when I first hurt myself. All I remember thinking was how good the external pain felt, taking the focus away from my internal turmoil. Months later I diverted from my healthy diet and found myself facing bulimia. The first time I felt confused, wondering why I kept eating though I was satisfied. But I craved the food badly, I ate and I ate, until I felt so physically upset I had to empty my stomach. I cried & cried every time because I wanted to badly to stop but I had no control, and that was the part that got me. I didn’t even have control over me.

It’s sad that after everything I’ve suffered I’ve also had to deal with bullies who have targeted me because they know they could. I try to build myself up, to be stronger and braver in the face of this. I do psychotherapy and I’m not sure it helps. Maybe? Doctors say I will likely need therapy for the rest of my life. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Every day is a challenge. But I wake up and set out to do my very best. I try to practise mindfulness and celebrate my successes. Whether they are publishing a new book, managing to stay out of hospital or simply getting out of bed when I feel like shit, I celebrate them all equally, because I know what it is like to be crippled by depression and C-PTSD. I know very well what it’s like to lie in bed unable to will myself up; to want to shower or make a cup of tea and not be able to do so. I know what it’s like to feel that it’s safer to stay alone than get close to people…to stay indoors for days, unable to set a foot outside the front door. So every day I achieve something, no matter how small, I pat myself and say ‘well done, you’ve done it today so when you think you can’t do it tomorrow, just remember you did it today.’

The one dream

I’ve told you what many of my nightmares consist of. But it would be remiss of me not to mention the one dream that overshadows every nightmare that comes.

In this dream, I carry a heavy babe in my arms as I climb a tall, rickety winding staircase leading to a wall. With every step I take, the child becomes heavier. When I’m almost to the top, the staircase crumbles like dust in the wind. This part of the dream ends abruptly, like a director’s cut in a poorly edited movie, and when I open my eyes I am on the sea front, surrounded by people who cannot see me. The rippling turquoise waters beckon me and I do not resist. I walk into them and as I float farther in, the waters envelope me, washing away every heavy burden my soul bears. I embrace the waters filling me up as I begin knowing a kind of peace. It almost feels…like home, where my soul will find rest, so I let it consume me. But as my consciousness ebbs, a hand reaches through the veil of the waters, and pulls me out. And again, the scene ends abruptly. I awake as a child, amongst the laughter and play of my fair cousins.

My aunt, an interpreter of dreams says the heavy child I carry represents the burdens I bear; the seaside scene is the deception of suicide and my subconscience believing that it is there I will find rest from the pain that plagues me. She says the hand pulling me out of the waters, is the truth that I am not lost, that redemption can, and will be found…that even when I am drowning, no matter how close I come to death’s doors a power higher than any torment and death will lift me up.

I press on, finding strength in my faith and true friends who embrace me, imperfections and all. I am encouraged by sharing with others in the same boat, by bringing a good word to those who need it. Maybe doctors are right…maybe I will need therapy for the rest of my life. Maybe. All I know is I’ve managed to make it this far, when I didn’t think I could. You could have told me a thousand times that I’d make it, but I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t walk this road myself.

A million hugs & prayers for your courage & peace of mind.

Love Alisha